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USF needs to move on this opportunity

Published Sep. 1, 2005

They have been largely quiet at the University of South Florida, so you may assume they are plotting. Maneuvering. Working with covert determination.

Either that or they are foolishly overlooking an opportunity that could forever alter the program's direction.

The landscape of college athletics is about to change. That seems clear. And it is a change more likely to be significant than subtle.

Miami and Virginia Tech have moved on to the Atlantic Coast Conference, and universities elsewhere are playing musical chairs to the chime of cash registers. The Big East needs to replace the Hurricanes and Hokies. The ACC might still be looking for a 12th member. Conference USA is concerned about a Big East raid. The Western Athletic Conference is plotting its own expansion.

Everyone, it seems, is getting in position for the day, not so far off, when a half-dozen super conferences will control postseason football.

Which brings us to USF and a strategy that had better not include a hint of dilly or a smackeral of dally. South Florida must be aggressive. It must be innovative. It must schmooze with the best and connive with the worst. USF, somehow, must finagle an invitation into the Bowl Championship Series.

How, you may ask, does South Florida pull that off?

Any way it can.

Maybe by jumping to the Big East, which already has a BCS bid. Maybe by convincing Conference USA that its own expansion is necessary to entice the BCS. Maybe by splitting off with C-USA members to form a new conference.

Whatever happens, USF cannot afford to sit passively and continue to hope for better days. Or have you already forgotten the Seth Greenberg era?

South Florida has something to sell and it should start making courtesy calls, pronto.

Plenty of schools are already said to be looking at new leagues. East Carolina, Louisville, Cincinnati, Marshall and Central Florida among them.

Some may have better basketball programs, grander tradition or bigger budgets. But does any offer the twin commodities of a top-15 television market and a football program coming off a top-30 season?

The one component missing for South Florida is name recognition. Which is all the more reason to be working behind the scenes to make the school as attractive as possible to a conference such as the Big East.

Go ahead. Call it wishful thinking. Ask why the Big East would have interest in USF when both Louisville and Cincinnati are better-known programs, geographically more sensible and miles ahead in basketball.

The answer is the same as always.


The Big East is not yet in danger of losing its place in the BCS, but it is worried about having its contract with ABC/ESPN voided. The networks have a provision that allows them to renegotiate if league membership changes.

You might guess that losing Miami to the ACC would seriously jeopardize the Big East's network appeal. And while no one would confuse USF with the Hurricanes, swapping Miami's TV market for Tampa Bay's is not a stretch but an upgrade.

These are the type of ideas USF officials need to push, whether it is at NCAA cocktail parties or whispered asides to reporters. Sure, they should be circumspect. Alienating Conference USA partners must be avoided.

But by advancing the notion that South Florida is a player, it increases the probability of conference commissioners calling on university president Judy Genshaft.

Perhaps it will be a needless exercise. Maybe, in the end, USF will discover it is not the right fit for the Big East. That the travel expense for nonrevenue producing sports makes the proposition too costly. That the exit fee from C-USA is too high and the potential revenues from the Big East too low. Miami, after all, had trouble making money in the league.

But Genshaft and athletic director Lee Roy Selmon need to be in position to make that call themselves. They do not want to have it made for them by failing to work for an invitation.

You see, the fear is not status quo. The real worry is going backward. USF is in a decent conference today, but what will become of Conference USA if Louisville, Cincinnati and East Carolina move on to the Big East or ACC?

If USF does not have a fallback plan, will it be forever doomed to dance with the Alabama-Birminghams of the world?

There is a suspicion that a college football playoff is not far off. That perhaps six or seven leagues eventually will have conference championship games. And those six or seven champions will join one or two at-large teams in an eight-team playoff.

That has to be USF's aim. To get into a league that feeds into the BCS and potentially a playoff. Maybe it's a long shot for a toddler of a football team, but it's the quickest path to success. Imagine the athletes Jim Leavitt will recruit if he can offer the hope of the Rose Bowl instead of the reality of the Liberty Bowl?

The bottom line is that football is the revenue-producer for athletic departments, and getting a cut of the BCS is the best way to ensure revenues.

Genshaft and Selmon have to know that. They have to know the time is right to pursue the opportunity. They have to know others are already maneuvering.

They have to act.